Musikal Resistance: A Short History (I)

This paper was originally presented as an informal talk at the Rebelstar Activist Retreat, Crescent Beach, BC, Canada on November 26th, 2001.


Musikal Resistance: A Short History (I)




Rave Culture began at the juncture of several political social movements.


i) Jamaican Dub Soundsystem Culture of the 70s/80s

ii) UK Traveller Culture (ex-hippies); Punks; New Agers; also a centuries old tradition of Carnival on the Common Lands

iii) Austin, Texas, 1986: the impact of Ecstasy

iv) Continuation of Chicago Disco into house music; the rise of gay culture and the Funk Movement

v) Detroit: the artistic-social backlash to the failed modernist city-project resulted in Detroit techno and rap.

vi) The late 80s in the UK saw the rise of Acid House music (Chicago house with a 303 overtop, the combining of Chicago dance culture with UK rebellion), which took on new social importance due to its context: “dj’ed,” on turntables, mixed by djs with pitch controls (this is a new thing!), in illegal spaces: occupations of warehouses, farmlands, public and private spaces.


In the UK and in North America, the theories of anarchist Hakim Bey came into prominence. Bey was highly influenced by French theorists Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, who were active as radical professors during the May 68 revolution in France. Bey took the theories of Deleuze and Guattari, along with a bunch of others including Fourier, William Burroughs, and many anarchists, and turned them into two main (for the point of this lecture) practical ideas.


I. TAZ. The Temporary Autonomous Zone (1985).


This is trying to practically implement Deleuze’s idea of smooth space: a space not hierarchised or territorialised, a space where anything could happen, a space where free thought and action merge in productive ways. Bey doesn’t spend much time defining TAZ, and what he says is “If the phrase became current it would be understood without difficulty… understood in action” (TAZ 99). But what he does make clear, after Deleuze, is that a TAZ is not a revolution. Revolution, historically defined, always calls for a reactionary, oppressive era that follows, that always further strengthens the State. Both D+G and Bey reject the notion of revolution. Instead, they are more interested in what works outside of history, specifically outside of the Hegelian idea of history which Marx uses specifically. Bey latches onto the idea of the uprising, what is usually defined as a failed revolution, but for him is a point of intensity that changes lives: it makes a positive difference, whereas revolution only brings about further reactionary consequence. 


"In short, we're not touting the TAZ as an exclusive end in itself, replacing all other forms of organization, tactics, and goals. We recommend it because it can provide the quality of enhancement associated with the uprising without necessarily leading to violence and martyrdom. The TAZ is like an uprising which does not engage directly with the State, a guerilla operation which liberates an area (of land, of time, of imagination) and then dissolves itself to re-form elsewhere/elsewhen, before the State can crush it. Because the State is concerned primarily with Simulation rather than substance, the TAZ can "occupy" these areas clandestinely and carry on its festal purposes for quite awhile in relative peace. Perhaps certain small TAZs have lasted whole lifetimes because they went unnoticed, like hillbilly enclaves--because they never intersected with the Spectacle, never appeared outside that real life which is invisible to the agents of Simulation." (TAZ 101).


Several groups picked up on the idea of the TAZ, as it demands a degree of nomadism in its practical application and acceptance. To various UK groups that were already nomadic, the TAZ was a timely solution, and its result was the fertile time of rave culture that engaged in spontaneous, free “raves,” held in warehouses, fields, etc. Now before I move on from the TAZ, I want to note that Bey stresses it is a concept that is invisible, operates below the radar of the State. It does not necessarily have anything to do with rave culture per se; instead, it can be put into practice wherever the “map” of the State leaves a fold, a crease, an opening for an activity that can pass unnoticed. I’ll give a quick example, which, although it pertains to rave culture, is still worthwhile mentioning.



In 1998 I did an event called “Qork/Oddity.” It’s location was the Woodward’s parking garage that borders Gastown. At about 3am, 6 or 7 carloads of us drove to the back of the massive parking garage, headed up to the top floor, and set up our own zone. In the back of a minivan, I had squished decks, speakers, and an amp, and we ran an extension cord to the power outlets available in the garage (I had already reconned that they worked previously). We started up the music, put up posters, slogans, put out a big roll of paper that people could draw on, and had ourselves a little occupation party. Security came cycling by, but did nothing, eventually only asking us to leave when our parking tickets expired at 6am. I believe that we were simply such an oddity, popping into existence, hence a quark, that we simply did not qualify as a threat, and so we went on undisturbed. This is worth mentioning, because by 1998 it was increasingly difficult to throw a warehouse party—it was much easier in the early 90s. The cops had caught on, and the whole idea of warehouse parties had become cliched, along with the rave scene. The whole thing was going down the drain, right to the point where we see the dregs of the whole thing today. So at that time, we were working hard to think of new and creative ways to do things that would be under the radar. This was one of them.


There are two other concepts of the TAZ that jived particularily well with rave culture, indeed that helped to form rave culture.


a)     The Band. As opposed to the nuclear family: this consists of loyalties that break traditional hierarchical strata, including the nation-state and patriotism.

b)     The Festival. The TAZ should incorporate some element of celebration. The TAZ is designed to make dissidence fun, to grasp what could be a way of life … now...hence making the future a reality.


In the early 90s, many aspects of rave culture embraced these ideas, of occupying public space, creating loyalties to fellow ravers, crew members, soundsystem drogues, of embracing a hedonistic moment, often on weekends, where all hell broke loose in a whirl of passion, dancing, etc. Rave culture was, and contines to be, in pockets, a socio-political force, as it is a threat to the State and its history, politics, norms of society and so on. One shouldn’t doubt this. The harsh measures taken against Rave culture are testament to this: the Criminal Justice Act in the UK, the Crack House Law in the US, Vancouver’s Anti-Entertainment By-Law, etc. All of these laws have had the effect of institutionalising raves into the format of the club, where drugs, people, profits, and desires can easily be controlled. Lifestyles may still be built around going to the Ministry of Sound in the UK, but for the most part, you are no longer a threat to the State, you have become a visible member, counted at the door, deduced by that night’s corporate Ecstasy sales.


The second major concept from Bey is …


II. The Tong, or the Secret Society.


Bey uses examples of the Chinese Tong, the Occult, rogue Pirate settlements from the 18th century, and the original Ashashins of Hassm I’ Sabbah—ironically probably situated in the northern regions of what is today Afghanistan, Pakistan and the surrounding area, and I think this is important in terms of a political analysis of the current situation there—to think about ways to extend the TAZ into the realm of the Permanent Autonomous Zone, or PAZ. The PAZ is not a revolution, because the point is not to overthrow the structure, which would be suicidal, but to live an alternative life and economy inside of it, or outside of it or through it depending on how you want to look at it. The Tong exists not as a tangible form, i.e. a permanent territory. The Secret Society can extend beyond geographic borders, timezones, and nationalities, creating particular group loyalties, without hierarchic control. One distinct practical application of this would be the operations of the Revolutionary Cells and the SPK, two militant-Left groups operating in Germany during the 70s. But beyond such militant applications, thinking about secret societies in light of the power of the internet can be practical in thinking how to set into motion ideas across the planet, and then see them bloom. Bey also touches upon what I think is a telling quote:


“If we took all the energy the Leftists put into "demos", and all the energy the Libertarians put into playing futile little 3rd-party games, and if we redirected all that power into the construction of a real underground economy, we would already have accomplished "the Revolution" long ago.” (“Permanent Tazs,” 1993)


All of these ideas influenced a segment of Rave culture and were also inspired by the beginnings of Rave culture itself. Groups such as Spiral Tribe operated anarchist communes and nomadic groups, travelling the UK—and eventually the Continent and North America, after they were banned from the UK, their own country—and groups such as the Liberator brothers began to set up underground London warehouse events, quite secret, after the police began to crack down on the more public Orbital—London Ring Road—gatherings and Festivals, as well as the larger warehouse occupations. In the mean time, all over the world, unorganised, but blooming like a secret society nonetheless, rave culture was taking hold. Underground cavern parties in Paris, in the tunnels; desert parties in Israel and California (and of course Burning Man came to being around the same time); forest parties in BC and Washington State; field parties in the US Midwest (Sickness/Recovery). The US Midwest was especially vibrant, where anti-government hick culture basically did Ecstasy and created a strange mix of booze fuelled hardcore music parties with cowboys and Ecstasy loving that were incredibly anti-establishment, and yet also part of a larger distrust-of-the-government tradition that has spawned, on the other end, armed militias.



For those of you who may be new to rave culture, it is worth noting that what today passes for a rave is simply not a rave. Rave culture today is simply a capitalist, commerical enterprise, corporate if not downright criminal—and I mean in the sense of the various criminal elements financially backing these parties as forums to sell large quantities of Corporate Drugs. The events that happen in Vancouver, publicized as raves, taking place at the PNE or what-have-you, are not bastions of social resistance. They are enclaves of sheep. And although there is still something rebellious about it, it doesn’t even reach the point of Bakhtin’s Medieval Carnival. The biggest thrill you are going to get out of it is wondering if your Corporate Drugs will kill you or not due to impurities.


This is why it is important, when mixing political elements of rave culture with the general activist milieu, to have an idea of the political tradition that rave culture comes out of. Getting any old dj with his decks up there at a protest or an activist gathering, so he or she can promote their next event, is nor productive to creating a TAZ or fuelling the fires of protest. This can be seen in Germany’s Love Parade, which has degenerated from a true occupation of the streets, wild and uncontrollable, to a corporate control battle of million-dollar floats and limousine pampered DJs.  



Merging rave culture with contemporary protest brings us to the practical side of this lecture. First I am going to talk a little about Reclaim the Streets, and then I am going to move into things like how to get a soundsystem, what you will need to set up a mobile DJ system, etc.


Reclaim the Streets was born in London, UK, in 1995, directly out of rave-festival culture, right where it junctures with political activism. It is really the coming to being of Jamaican soundsystem culture--of which Bristol is a major postcolonial nexus--rave culture, and street demos. Its mandate is to quite literally take back the streets, create a nomadic, temporary autonomous zone in a public space; to have a purpose for doing so—otherwise we have little more than a bunch of rowdies—and to have fun in the process. The first global RTS party was Saturday, May 16th, 1998.


Vancouver. However, whereas most of the world has been all over bringing djs into the mix, Vancouver lags a bit. For the most part, this is because the political tradition of Rave culture in Vancouver is far more diffuse. Various groups pop up from time to time to do their thing, and then disband quickly. Other groups stick to neo-Hippie beliefs that lead their parties further and further away from the city, which is fine, but what we are interested here at the moment is merging the activist and rave elements instead of dancing under the trees and stars with a Nehru shirt on with a girl called River Flower. Personally, I’ve been trying to do various events that combine these elements since 1995. There have been some great groups that have come and gone, including MindBodyLove in its early days, a drug-awareness and activist group; the Whirled Bees Collective, which did the Dancing Fields aka Make Friends Not War Sunday gatherings outside of the art gallery and QE theatre in the summer of 1998; the Mycorrhiza Collective, which still does events up near the Elaho; Soldiers of the Underground, who are working hard at developing a free party circuit; Tribal Harmonix...


There are several good reasons to tap into these circuits of people. First, these are circuits of energy. Ravers tend to be young people, often prematurely jaded through their hedonistic lifestyles, but full of energy for life. Opening people up to the scope of the struggle they are actually involved in—whether they know it or not—can be a life changing experience. We’re talking a little bit of classic class consciousness awareness here. Getting these people out to protests will enlargen the struggle in general and the intensity of the uprising, or TAZ, in particular. The reverse is also true. Getting activists out to underground rave events, or to other events that explore the nooks and crannies of the TAZ, will no doubt invigorate them in their everyday lives, and give them some fun. For fun is a good thing, and we need fun now. We should not wait for the revolution to bring us fun.


Using DJs at protest events, and indeed, at activist events in general, will hopefully open these two cultures up to each other. And by this I mean the general rave culture of people who simply attend late night events, who still seek some form of adventure and hedonism in the city core, and the group of what I call “post-ravers,” people who are often quite politically aware, but sceptical of traditional activism, for it all seems to be about chanting and signs and getting beat down by the police instead of fun...and social change. Post-ravers have seen the rise and fall of an invisible community-- this is valuable experience to tap when building anterior networks to the State.




[1. DJs and Musical Consciousness]


One should know their DJs. Again, talk to people in the scene. Ask them about their politics. Find out what they have done. There is also a musical history here that one should be aware of, which harkens back to Detroit and Chicago as I mentioned. There are already musicians who claim various political mandates, such as Underground Resistance out of Detroit. Often genres such as Detroit Techno embrace a mandate of social change through music, taking their inspiration from black leaders such as Sun Ra and George Clinton. Likewise, a lot of midwest hardcore techno comes out of, or walks with the punk movement. And contemporary experimental techno, often centering around the German label Mille Plateaux, is highly influenced by the ideas of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (Mille Plateaux is the name of one of their more famous texts). Such artists are also influenced by the Situationnists, whom gave us what is known today as Culture Jamming, ie. Adbusters (Negativland is a prominent group here, although not in the djing realm but influential in their own right). Experimental techno artists are also interested by people such as  John Cage, the musical anarchist, the Dada and Fluxus movements, the repetitious work of Phillip Glass, who did the score for Koyannasqatsi by Godfrey Reggion, as well as the other minimalists such as Steve Reich, Terry Riley and John Adams, all who have rather radical ideas.


Thumping trance might be popular, or UK hard house, but it would be the equivalent of playing Britney Spears. Pay attention to the music and its intentions, which are often—at least to the untrained ear—admittedly difficult to decipher without lyrics. But it is easier done than supposed. If it sounds cheesy, it’s cheesy: it’s there to sell, it’s not there to stimulate your mind, it’s a capitalist musical product, an object sold with tits and young girls and DJs in limousines with their bitches. It’s a similar situation in hip-hop. I am struggling to think of an alternative to “conscious hip-hop,” which has caught on very well, become the voice of several struggles including First Nations and of course Black culture worldwide. The same can be said for Rave music, which, if it is intelligent, experimental and political, probably won’t be called rave music at all, but rather techno, jungle, hardcore, minimal techno, glitch, microsound, lowercase sound, IDM, ambient, etc.




The size and scope of your system depends on your event. A large event requires a larger system. If you are going to do an all night or late night event in a ballroom or a hall or something, get a nice system that comes with a sound technician who can set it up. (Check the contact list at the end for recommendations). But there are some things to keep in mind if you are planning on renting a system piece by piece from somewhere like Long and McQuade.


**General note: you can’t reserve anything through L&M. You get what is available when you show up. So paying the extra $$ to guarantee a worthwhile soundsystem, especially for a larger or important event, is worth it.


a)    Bassbins. These are necessary, otherwise it sounds like crap. Otherwise known as woofers, they provide the thump.

b)     Mid-hi speakers. Necessary for everything but the bass. They provide the kick and the high hats, etc.

c)      An Amp, Compressor, Crossover, and EQ.  

Setup. The single from the mixer goes into the compressor, then from the compressor to the crossover, and then from the crossover to the EQ, then from the EQ(s) to the Amp(s), then from the Amp to the Speakers.


a.        AMP. This provides the volume for the speakers. Each speaker is a certain amount of watts, let’s say 250 watts per side. That is 500 watts total. You need at least a 500watt amp. Add in a bassbin of 300 watts, you need at least an 800watt amp. In general, run an amp at 90% of its total volume. Be careful when you turn it all the way up. Blowing fuses sucks; new amps simply have a button you push to reset the amp, old ones require a new fuse. New speakers have resetable fuses as well, to protect from signals that are too hot.


b.      Compressor. The signal from the mixer runs into the compressor, which limits the volume of the signal. This is important, because if your DJ runs the mixer too loud (“hot” or “redlining” or “oh shit”), it can blow the speakers and the amp, fuzz them out. So a compressor keeps a lid on things. Advice: the compressor should only be there for compressing the kick a little. It makes things sound a bit warmer. If things are really compressed, it sounds like shite. A good DJ will not push the levels too high, and a good sound tech will set it up so the DJ can have it loud without straining the system or over-compressing. For actually setting the knobs on the compressor, I would recommend hunting down a compressor FAQ online, or asking the people in Long and McQuade or the sound tech, as it is a bit lengthy to go into here. Good compression ratios for beat oriented musics are: 2:1, with a 0~+2 out, no limiter, soft compressor on, with a –10 threshhold, fairly fast attack. The release depends on the music. Short, minimal beats=a quick release, music with lots of synths and drones=long release.


c.    EQ. If you have bassbins and midrange speakers, they should get their own Eqs (this is the way it is set up above). If you only have one EQ, just EQ the midrange speakers. You CAN put the EQ before the X-Over, but you need a good EQ (at least 64 channels) and a good knowledge of Eqing. In general, EQ the midrange bins by dropping down the piercing high end and the low end, and making a nice soft round curve in-between to bring out the lows. Always test with a record (same goes for everything here—hence the necessity of a soundcheck). EQ the bassbins by turning down the highs and mids and bringing up the bass. However, it is not nearly as necessary to EQ the bassbins, as the X-Over will do much of this for you.


d.    X-Over. This little box separates the frequencies, allowing you to send the bass to the bassbins and the mid-hi to the mid-hi speakers. Usually, you want to set the cutoff for the bass signals between 100 and 140 Hz.


e.     A DJ Monitor. Necessary so the DJ can hear. Two, in stereo, with their own amp, if this is a large event. Usually the DJ mixer has two outs. One for the main system, and one for the DJ monitors, with its own volume knob on the mixer specifically for this purpose.


f.     Power. Either wall sockets, an extension cord, a powerbar, or a generator. (More on gennies in a bit). Make sure that you don’t put everything on one plug, or hopefully not even on one circuit. Use good quality powerbars and extension cords (not the household ones, but the nice thick ones, three prong).


g.        Two Technics SL1200 Turntables, with DJ needles, and a DJ mixer (a 3 channel with Mid, Hi, Bass, controls for each channel; dj cues; a crossfader and line levels; headphone jack—these should all be present).  

h.     A DJ, or DJs, with records. For this sort of event—ie not a party but an activist thang—a DJ can hopefully help out by bringing their decks and mixer. Usually DJs don’t—the event organiser provide all these things. If they bring their decks, respect that. Decks are expensive things, and a DJ may be defensive about who plays on them. Decks should be handled with care and an inexperienced DJ can damage them. Also take care to organise the DJ timeslots. Leaving it “open” is unfortunately an invitation to squabbles. Such is human nature. Of course, there is a good chance that your primary DJ contact will offer to organise this for you, and this is probably a good idea, as hopefully they are a good person, with musikal and political consciousness, which is why you asked them to DJ in the first place.  

h)      A Sturdy Table, at least 3 feet high. Low tables=back pain and skipping decks. STURDY.



[3. Parade/Street Situations]


i) Using a flatbed truck, with its own generator, is the best solution. Everything should be weighted down, with sandbags, and the decks should be on top of concrete paving stones, on top of rubber matting (you can get it from Home Hardware), which is on top of the table. You don’t want anything to slip, so just make things solid. Make sure that your gennie has enough wattage—don’t forget to factor in lightbulbs (ie 100 watts a bulb). Chances are you will be around 2000-4500 watts. Hondas are the best generators. Get one that is always slightly bigger than you need. They are cheap to rent. You CAN use an underrated genny, but be careful. Same with hot refuelling (refuelling when the generator is running or even still hot—this is dangerous and should be done by experienced peoples only). Be careful. Have a fire extinguisher on hand just in case. Also: Get hay bales for your genny. Place them around the genny. That blocks out sound of the genny.


ii) If you can’t get a flatbed truck, you can lay the decks, on a stiff piece of plywood or in a DJ coffin, across the back of a pickup truck. The DJ will have to kneel. The genny, if small enough, can fit in the back, although this is a dangerous situation due to fumes and the heat of the genny and the noise. Or, it is possible to run a small system from a car battery—one needs a stripped down system for this, and the wattage must be calculated carefully. Finally, one needs to run a 3 prong plug into a splitter for a car battery (obviously this is a separate battery and NOT the one that the vehicle is using!). In general, the best strategy is to run say one or two speakers from a car battery while in mobile mode. When the street party settles down at a location for a bit—say at least an hour—pull out the genny and set it up on the other side of the truck. Pull out your bassbins, hook everything up, and voila, raging occupation party running from the genny.


iii) Finding power. Get creative. There are plugs all over the city—outside the library, QE Theatre, VAG, Courthouses…


iv) Rain. Decks don’t survive in rain. If you expect rain, a flatbed with a roof is necessary. Or some other cover. It IS possible, although cramped, to fit decks and a single Elite 18” woofer with 10” mid hi cone speaker into the back of a minivan, with the decks on top of the speaker. This is a great scenario for real hit and run situations, like outdoor parking lots at night, intersections, etc.


v) Creativity. Combining a mobile dance protest with pirate radio is an excellent way to keep things going while everyone drives to the next spot. You can even give directions from your pirate radio, and the music can keep playing. In the past, we have experimented with parties with no soundsystem at all, where everyone uses walkmans tuned into the pirate radio. This is a rather eerily silent and powerful gathering.


vi) Noise Complaints. In London, especially in Bristol, noise complaints are a side issue. In Vancouver, they are a major issue. This is why the “protest” element may be necessary (notice that the Vancouver 1998 RTS with music was not stopped or hassled because of the music). Music can add a friendly element; it can also turn hard and represent anger—it is emotional and this will affect how people hear it and what they decide to do in light of it. Managing your volume is a good idea. Before a cop can give you a noise complaint, they have to ask you to turn it down. Noise complaints are valid 24/7—there are no acceptable “loud” times in this city (it is always “quiet time,” except for construction, which is exempt). Be wary: a noise fine can run into thousands of dollars, and was an early tactic to shut down raves. However, if you feel the complaint is false, it can be fought in court—the officers need to provide evidence of the complaint.



Hakim Bey:

Important texts: T.A.Z. (available online for free—copyleft). Autonomedia, 1991.

Reclaim The Streets London:

RTS Worldwide:


Vancouver Musical Groups

<ST> -- post-anarchist, musikal resistance

Navigator -- nexus of Gaia-influenced tribalists

Mycorrizha Collective -- post-hippie Mayans

TeamLounge intelligent ambient lovers

Mediacore experimental hardcore + political

Tribal Harmonix -- post-hippie Mayans


Soundsystems for Rent

X-Max Sound

--does many of the <ST> events. Good for 100-200 people range.

Cost: $200 and up, depending on the event, size, etc.

“Crazy Dave.”  (604) 597-3110.

--does many smaller underground events. Good up to 100 people, barebones sound.

Cost: $75-150 depending on the event, size, etc.


Worldwide Nomadic Soundsystems

Spiral Tribe nomadic aural travellers

SPAZ US anarcho-soundsystem



NW Tekno General information on “raves” in the NW

TechnoWest experimental techno collective

TargetCircuitry experimental online radio

Hyperreal All things rave. Great database. Good information on this drug and others.

Culture Jammer’s Encyclopaedia


Aural Jamming and Music

Plunderphonic Negativland work

Ironfeather Info:Autonomous Mutant Festival, Burning Man